125 Moments: 029 John F. Kennedy and Fritz Reiner’s Memorial

November 28 and 29, 1963, program book cover

Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director from 1953 until 1962 and musical adviser for the 1962–63 season, died in New York on November 15, 1963.

Jean Martinon had programmed the Thanksgiving week concerts (on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, November 28 and 29) to include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem (Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus had been rehearsing the two works since early September). These were designated as memorials to Reiner, and the program page for the November 21 and 22 concerts included an announcement.

Original program book cover for November 28 and 29, 1963, most likely printed in advance of November 22

The November 22 CSO matinee concert was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m., not even two hours after President John F. Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas (Walter Cronkite confirmed the news of Kennedy’s death at 1:38 p.m.). Just before the concert began, an announcement was made from the stage (presumably by general manager Seymour Raven), and there was significant reaction of shock from the audience, including audible gasps, cries, and even screams.

Moments before, it had been decided to open the concert with the second movement — the funeral march — from Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica), followed by the rest of the program as scheduled: Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Henze’s Third Symphony and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, all led by Martinon.

The November 28 and 29, 1963, concerts became a memorial not only for Reiner but also for Kennedy. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune, “After the emotional exhaustion of these last black days, neither the austere beauty of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms nor the not-quite Mozart of the Requiem asked more of the listener than he had left to give. It was a quiet, beautifully played, wholly compassionate concert in Orchestra Hall.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: 125 Moments was created to celebrate the ensemble's 125th season in 2015-16 and gathered significant events, illustrated with imagery and artifacts from the collections of the Rosenthal Archives.

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